Emotions: Why Do We Need Them?

Emotions can be difficult to understand. As a therapist, clients frequently ask, “What is the point of having emotions?” Most people understand joy and love but can also struggle with the complexity of and pain associated with negative feelings such as sadness or anger or fear.  And many people would prefer not to have to experience them at all!  It seems that life would be easier if we didn't have to undergo the ups and downs that emotions play in our lives. So why do we need them?

Emotions were originally designed simply as a method of survival.  We couldn’t have a flight or fight response if we didn’t have fear to indicate something is wrong.  

Negative emotions in particular, such as fear or anger, are a necessary part of life and cannot be avoided. When we experience painful emotions and try to avoid them, we may unnecessarily be prolonging our agony and engaging in impulsive or self-destructive acts to ensure the painful experience is numbed or pushed away. This cycle can lead to drinking, drugs, gambling, self harming or developing an eating disorder, in an effort to numb out the pain. Learning how to tolerate one's feelings and emotions, no matter how intense they may be, is an important life skill to master.

What are some positive steps to take if you are having trouble tolerating painful emotions? The most important thing  to do is to talk about it. Holding feelings in, repressing them, or actively trying to push them away can only make it more difficult to manage down the road. Talking with a trusted friend or family member about how you are feeling can go a long way, and so can writing in a journal and meditating. Connecting with a therapist who can teach you skills to sit with your uncomfortable feelings and who can provide you a safe space to share can be quite beneficial.

In the end, all humans have emotions whether we like them or not.  The best course of action is to understand and befriend them!